IOM opens branch in Jaffna

[TamilNet, Friday, 04 April 2003, 12:20 GMT]
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) opened a branch office in Jaffna Friday. The IOM is involved in research and prevention of migrant trafficking, assists voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers, trafficked migrants, stranded students and refugees referred by the UNHCR.

The IOM’s Jaffna branch office was opened at Temple Road by Mr. Brunsen McKinley, the director general of the organization.

Ms. Mary Sheehan, the chief of mission in Sri Lanka, was also present at the opening.

Mr. McKinley told TamilNet that the IOM also works for the protection of migrants’ rights and helps governments improve their legal systems and technical capabilities to counter trafficking in persons.

A significant proportion of Sri Lankan migrants in Western Europe and North America are from the Jaffna peninsula.

The IOM evolved from the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) which was established in 1951 by the US and Belgium as an inter governmental organization to resettle European Displaced Persons, refugees and migrants. In the 50s the ICEM arranged for the processing and emigration of over 406,000 refugees, displaced persons and economic migrants from Europe to mostly North America.

Through the sixties and seventies the ICEM helped resettle refugees from communist countries, including Jews from the Soviet Union.

During the Cold War, East Block regimes alleged on occasions that the ICEM was tacitly working to promote US strategic interests.

During the Indo Pakistan war in 1971 which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the ICEM helped resettle in Pakistan a large number of those who could not stay in East Pakistan following the declaration of independence by the Mukthi Bahini.

The ICEM assisted over one million Vietnamese refugees who fled following the US pull out from South Vietnam in 1975.

As the Cold War drew to a close, ICEM was renamed the IOM in 1989.

After the Gulf War the IOM helped the return of about 800,000 Iraqi Kurds, under US, British and UN supervision.

In 1992, the IOM played a major role in managing displaced population in the former Yugoslavia and to a limited extent in Chechnya in 1995.

In 1996, the IOM settled 6000 Kurds from Northern Iraq in the US, many of whom have, since then, formed the part of the expatriate opposition to Mr. Saddam Hussein’s regime.

In 1999, the IOM airlifted 80000 Kosovar refugees from former Yugoslavia and found them temporary shelter in over 30 countries in the west. This led to the NATO military action against the Milosevic regime, its eventual downfall and the subsequent establishment of a large US armed forces base in Kosovo.

However, the IOM managed to repatriate more than 150,000 Kosovo refugees back to Yugoslavia by 2000.

Asked about the IOM’s plans for Jaffna in the future, Mr. McKinley said that has not yet been decided how much his organization was going to spend on projects in the north.

The IOM’s head office in Sri Lanka is at Police Park Avenue, Havelock Town, in Colombo.

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